Detailed Guide: How to Calibrate Your Monitor for Photography

Since the digital era arrived in the field of photography, the computer monitor has become one of the fundamental pieces when it comes to processing our photographic work. Whether to view, edit and even share our photos, going through a computer is almost mandatory. Beyond all the benefits that this new tool brought, in order to get the most out of our computer, we will have to take the trouble to configure it correctly and thus be able to obtain the best results. Today in the Photographer’s Blog we teach you how to calibrate the monitor and not die trying. But before continuing, if you are looking for a monitor for photography, in this mega-guide Mario gives you a master class to choose the best one for you. Seriously, he couldn’t have explained it better and in more detail. You won’t have a single doubt.

Why should we calibrate the monitor?

It has surely happened to more than one of us that after spending many hours editing our photographs, when we take them to another computer or even worse, after picking them up by the development service, the results we observe do not look a bit like those that we had originally achieved on our screen and to which we had dedicated so much time and effort.

The monitor is one of the most unstable components of the process and is one of the main reasons why the results we obtain are more variable than we would like.

That is why, in order to achieve the best possible results, we must take our time and calibrate our monitor if we do not want to get an unpleasant surprise when showing, sharing or printing them.

Calibration differences between different devices

The main causes of this problem are…

  • The amount of light from the environment where we are working.
  • The quality and type of monitor we are using (CRT, LCD, LED).
  • The marks and color calibration of each of these.
  • The time the monitor has been continuously on without a break.
  • The antiquity of it.
  • Etc.

In the case of prints, it is the color profile used by developing machines, the one in charge of translating the 0 and 1 that make up the computer files to the colors of our photographs and which we should also calibrate. Going deeper into this topic will surely be the subject of a future post.

Both the monitor and its calibration are basic but fundamental aspects so that we can ensure that our photographs are displayed in the same way on two different monitors.

What options are there to calibrate the screen?

There are various methods for us to find “the sweet spot” for our monitor, but we can differentiate three main methods to calibrate the screen, without making us want to throw our computer out the nearest window:

  1. Via Software: There is a great variety of applications that can help us to carry out this task, whatever the operating system that we are using. Windows and Mac OS X computers come with built-in tools to help us calibrate the screen, but if we want the best results there are many applications that will allow us to obtain them in a more professional way, if we take the time to configure them correctly. One of them is Quick Gamma, a free and simple application that will help us avoid green gray hairs during this process. Later in the post we will explain how to use it.
  2. Via Hardware: This type of calibration is the most accurate, fastest and the one that allows true quality color reproduction for both processing and printing, but of course, we must spend a significant amount of money to get one. They consist of a color sensor (colorimeter) that measures the colors of the monitor, and software where we can enter the values ​​we want for luminance, white point, brightness, contrast, etc. and this is in charge of making all the adjustments on the monitor and the computer to leave them ready for us to work with them. Some of the most used are: Data Color Spyder 3, Huey Pro and Xrite Color Munky.
  3. As our eyes: This, more than a method, is an option that can be used by those photographers who are either starting out in the world of photography and have spent our savings on getting a camera and lenses, or those who do not find it necessary access more advanced options, precise but expensive, to carry out this task. In order to do so, we only need the perception of our own eyes in front of the monitor. It consists of using images as patterns and making the necessary adjustments to the screen or monitor configurations so that these photographs are seen correctly.

Steps to calibrate the screen

Now that we are more clear about what it is and what are the different alternatives to calibrate the screen, we will begin to carry out a series of simple tests to evaluate whether or not our monitor is correctly calibrated for use in photography.

Recommendations: Before starting with the different tests that we propose from the Photographer’s Blog, make sure to set the color temperature of the monitor to 6500k. To be able to do this, look in the configuration menu that the monitor has integrated, the color settings. You will find several options (SRGB, 9300k, 7500k, 6500k, 5400k, User color, etc.) depending on the model and brand, but all of them offer the possibility of doing so.

As we mentioned before, the light colors of the background of the screen, the external light that hits directly on the monitor and even the light of the environment where we are working, confuse our eyes. If we perform the following tests directly from the browser, we will not achieve an optimal result. For the following tests, it is best to download the calibration images (which I will provide you with in a moment) on your computer and view them with a program that allows you to change the background color to black or neutral gray. Do not worry, at the end of the article I will mention some of the most used.

Finally, you must configure the monitor in the native resolution, that is, in the resolution and the refresh rate of the screen where the manufacturer guarantees the best results. Each monitor is different but, as an example, I leave you the following example: Resolution 1440 x 900 and refresh rate 75 Hertz. This configuration can be found in the screen properties of the operating system that we are using.

And now yes, let’s go with those steps to calibrate the screen.

1. Contrast test

In the following image, we will see a series of bars that increase in intensity according to RGB colors and a gray scale. If our monitor is well calibrated in terms of contrast, we will be able to differentiate each of the levels in each of the colors. All levels must be distinguishable from each other. In a monitor that is not calibrated correctly we will not be able to perceive any difference between the first values ​​of the scale, nor in the last ones.

Contrast Test

2. Black Test

In the following image we can only see the 10 black levels if our monitor is correctly calibrated. Ideally, they should all be differentiable and if not, we should modify the contrast, brightness and gamma levels to optimize the blacks of our monitor. If we make the adjustments in a different order than the one proposed, we must be careful not to unconfigure a previous adjustment while we perform a subsequent calibration.

black test

3.Gamma Calibration

The gamma defines the luminescence of the screen, that is, the amount of light that our monitor emits. Monitors should work under an RGB standard, that is, with a gamma value of around 2.2, but as we saw earlier there are many factors that can cause our screens to not be calibrated as they should. This step is essential since the gamma calibration is one of the most important variables when working with our photographs, so these values ​​must be correct if we want to achieve the best results.

In order to carry out this test, we will use free software that will allow those people who do not have the possibility of adjusting the values ​​for each of the RGB colors from the same monitor, to do so using this software. (Download Quick Gamma)

Once the software is installed, on its main screen we will select the Gamma option found in its top menu. Here we will proceed to adjust one by one, the levels of red, green and blue to leave our monitor perfectly calibrated.

Quick Gamma

If the screen calibration is correct, when looking at the following image with our eyes half open, we should not notice color differences between the semicircles. If any of the halves were darker or lighter than the other, we will have to adjust each of the colors more or less until all 3 can be observed, let’s remember with our eyes half closed, without differences.

gamma test

4. Sharpness Test

Currently, most LCD and LED monitors sold in stores have a built-in sharpness control that will allow us to adjust this parameter more easily. If the sharpness setting is correct, when looking at the next image a few meters away from the monitor or squinting, the background lines and gray cubes should no longer be distinguishable from the background. If the adjustment is not correct, we will not be able to see a large gray rectangle and we will notice each of the small lines in the background as well as the gray cubes that make it up.

sharpness test

If you want the colors of your photos to be appreciated by everyone just as you do and if you don’t want to stop enjoying the photos of your colleagues, you shouldn’t stop calibrating your screen.

In response to the way in which content is currently shared, where more and more of it is channeled through images or videos, monitor manufacturers seem to have been concerned with making our lives a little easier and began to include the main variables to calibrate the monitors in the menu of each screen. We can calibrate the color temperature, RGB colors, gamma, sharpness, contrast, etc., just by looking for these options in the monitor menu and following the guide that we propose below, we will have our monitor or TV calibrated without too much effort.

Other tips for calibrating your monitor

  1. Using neutral black or gray backgrounds will prevent you from losing perception of its total tonal amplitude in the photo since the eye does not react in the same way to a light or dark background when viewing a photograph, but if we use a dark background, we will facilitate the task .
  2. If you…